Rap musicians have long been freely appropriating excerpts from other artists' recordings for their own use, a practice known as electronic sampling.
But the non-profit organization that operates the Cleveland Orchestra contended Friday that Michael Jackson and Sony Music Entertainment Inc. had gone too far when they included a 1-minute-7-second segment of its recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Jackson's latest album, "Dangerous."
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York City, the Music Arts Association of Cleveland conceded the music of Beethoven was no longer protected by copyright.
But it contended that the Cleveland Orchestra's "unique" 1961 re
cording of his Ninth Symphony was protected, and asked for a total of $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The complaint was the latest volley in a growing legal war over sampling that thus far appears confined to rap and popular music.
Thomas W. Morris, the executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, said: "We respect Michael Jackson's innovative efforts to integrate pop and classic music. Our complaint is that Sony authorized or permitted Jackson to use the excerpt of our recording without our knowledge or consent, did not credit our work on Jackson's album and attributed the Cleveland Orchestra's performance to others."
Sue Satriano, a Sony spokeswoman, said: "Sony is the copyright owner of the Cleveland Orchestra's recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and acted within its rights as owner. Sony Music and Michael Jackson have been and still are negotiating a license for its use."
Ms. Satriano said that when a license fee is negotiated, Sony will pay the orchestra "an appropriate share."
Bertram Fields, Mr. Jackson's lawyer, denied any copyright infringement, saying, "I don't see how anyone would confuse Beethoven with Michael Jackson."
Mr. Morris said the Cleveland rendition had been conducted by its late music director, George Szell, and had thus been recorded in "a unique and distinct style" that had made the Cleveland one of the leading orchestras in the world.
CBS Records, which produced the recording, was bought by Sony in 1988, thus placing the orchestra in the position of suing the company for which it once recorded.